“I can’t breathe.”
The words of Eric Gardner in 2014.
The words of George Floyd in 2020.
Both died in police custody, sparking outrage and protests calling for an end to police brutality. Loved ones continue to hold vigils to honor their lives and the lives of the many others subjected to the sort of violence no one should ever endure.
Saying their names in the streets starts the awareness. Now, we must start to listen.
What police departments need to do is listen – and change.
That is happening locally.
Take for instance the Camden County Police Department. The metro police have engaged with Camden residents in more positive interactions, listening to them about issues pertaining to their lives or for casual conversations. Police Chief Joseph D. Wysocki was part of a recent protest in Camden, where he held a banner reading “Standing in Solidarity,” and joined chants of “George Floyd” and “No justice, no peace.”
Unity was not just seen in Camden. In Winslow Township, police officers and Mayor Barry Wright marched with organizers along Sicklerville Road with fists high in the air.
The two police departments are among many others that are implementing strict use-of-force policies, undergoing intense de-escalation training and welcoming reports of excessive force to internal affairs or county prosecutors’ offices.
These are steps in the right direction, but more work needs to be done.
Progress needs to happen across the country so we are not landing ourselves back in the same position. Police departments nationwide need to take action when they hear of a minority’s interaction with an officer.
Change will not come easy. It never has. But now is the time.
An hour passed and Gardner died. Eight minutes and 46 seconds passed and Floyd died.
Change cannot wait.